Wood enjoys victorious swan song

Ireland 35 Wales 12
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The Independent Online

As a World Cup warm-up there were several missing ingredients, most noticeably the absence of a healthy attendance to lend the match the appearance of a full-blooded Test. Against a side so experimental they had barely emerged from the test tube, Ireland duly completed a comprehensive victory by five goals to a goal and a try.

The Fair City had considerable counterattractions, particularly a big hurling match at a packed Croke Park, and the crowd here was barely in the region of 20,000. Not even the ploy of restoring the captaincy to Keith Wood, making his last appearance at Lansdowne Road, was a success in terms of marketing.

The great hooker is making his latest and last comeback after yet another operation, perfectly timed for a swan song at the forthcoming World Cup in Australia, especially as Frankie Sheahan is facing a two-year ban after failing a drug test. Sheahan is appealing, but not as appealing as Wood, who yesterday made his presence felt in typical fashion. He even crossed the Welsh line, but had the try disallowed for a double movement.

The on-site bookmaker here, Paddy Power, had Wales at 10-11 but with a 25-point start. A close-run thing. It was more a statement on Wales' novel look than anything else, as Steve Hansen's adopted country succumbed to a 10th successive defeat. It is a record run in adversity that shows no sign of being broken.

Next week Wales, a different-looking Wales, will play England in Cardiff, and the Irish have two weeks to prepare for the visit of Italy, not to Dublin but to Limerick, where a smaller ground will be more accommodating.

What Eddie O'Sullivan, the Ireland coach, learned from this match is that two of his world-class playmakers, Brian O'Driscoll and Geordan Murphy, have reappeared with a coating of rust. O'Driscoll, relinquishing the captaincy to Wood, was a couple of gears slower than earlier in the year and the same went for Murphy, although the full-back made a few things happen with his unorthodox approach when he moved to stand-off in the final quarter.

When these countries last met, in the Six Nations at the Millennium Stadium, Ronan O'Gara sensationally won the day with a drop goal in injury time. With O'Gara injured and David Humphreys the occupant at No 10, Ireland did not need such a dramatic intervention yesterday. In any case they spurned all kicks at goal, apart from the conversions. They hit Wales as early as the fourth minute (while spectators were still taking in the beer and the sunshine outside the ground), compiling six phases of play which resulted in the lock, Paul O'Connell, crashing through Gareth Thomas and Jamie Robinson.

Thomas, Wales' 119th captain, scored his 31st international try seven minutes later, rounding off a slick move after Michael Owen had stolen the ball from O'Connell at a line-out. Trailing 7-5, Wales showed resolute defence, highlighted by a crushing tackle on O'Driscoll from Ceri Sweeney. But when the Wales scrum was exposed in the 31st minute Alan Quinlan, with the support of Keith Gleeson, was driven over at the posts.

Just before half-time, Iestyn Harris was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on Anthony Horgan (in rugby league it would have been fine). While the centre was off, Ireland increased their lead. The flanker, David Wallace, who had come on at half-time for Anthony Foley, breached a depleted defence in a move that inevitably featured Wood. Although Harris made some telling breaks, Ireland went further ahead with the pick of their five tries. Brilliantly exploiting turnover possession in their own 22, they counterattacked down the left flank, where Murphy, cutting back inside, laid on a try for Malcolm O'Kelly.

Wales at least stemmed the flow when Garan Evans scored, from a chip by the full-back Nicky Robinson, and Harris converted. But Ireland deservedly had the last word when O'Connell got his second try, making it a red-letter day for the Irish second row.

Ireland 35 Wales 12
Tries: O'Connell 2, Quinlan, Wallace, O'Kelly; Tries: G Thomas, G Evans
Cons: Humphreys 4, Murphy; Con: Harris

Half-time: 14-5 Attendance: 20,000

Ireland: G Murphy (Leicester); T Howe (Ulster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster), K Maggs (Bath), A Horgan (Munster); D Humphreys (Ulster), P Stringer (Munster); R Corrigan (Leinster), K Wood (unattached, capt), S Best (Ulster), M O'Kelly (Leinster), P O'Connell (Munster), A Quinlan (Munster), K Gleeson (Leinster), A Foley (Munster). Replacements: D Wallace (Munster) for Foley, 40; J Fitzpatrick (Castres) for Best, 62; G Dempsey (Leinster) for Humphreys, 62; D O'Callaghan (Munster) for O'Kelly, 68; S Byrne (Leinster) for Wood, 68; G Easterby (Rotherham) for Stringer, 77; G D'Arcy (Leinster) for Howe, 77.

Wales: N Robinson (Cardiff); G Evans (Llanelli), J Robinson (Cardiff), I Harris (Cardiff), G Thomas (Celtic Warriors, capt); C Sweeney (Celtic Warriors), D Peel (Llanelli); D Jones (Neath-Swansea), M Davies (Celtic Warriors), B Evans (Cardiff), M Owen (Gwent Dragons), G Llewellyn (Neath-Swansea), R Oakley (Gwent Dragons), R Parks (Celtic Warriors), A Popham (Leeds). Replacements: G Jenkins (Celtic Warriors) for B Evans, 52; V Cooper (Llanelli) for Owen, 66; H Bennett (Neath-Swansea) for Davies, 67.

Referee: J Dumé (France).